Oblate Parish Participates in Ecumenical Thanksgiving Service

Mission - Unity - Dialogue

By Fr. Harry Winter, OMI

Photo by Walter Martin, Unsplash

Service takes place close to the original site of Plymouth, MA

St. Mary’s Parish, Georgetown and Rowley, MA joined other Churches to offer an ecumenical Thanksgiving Service at Georgetown’s First Congregational Church on Tuesday, Nov. 22 at 7 pm. George Washington’s Thanksgiving Proclamation of 1789 was read with two Old Testament Scripture texts (click here for Washington’s Proclamation).

The choir director of St. Mary’s and one choir member joined an ecumenical choir of about 25 singers. Three other parishioners joined me in attending.  I was asked to give the “Reflection,” (shown below)  About 100 people made up the congregation for this first joint service in the area since covid.

Many thanks, Pastor Holly, for giving us psalm 100 as one of our two Scripture readings. It was sung at the solemn entry of the Jewish people into the Temple in Jerusalem, probably in connection with the offering up of a thanksgiving sacrifice (NAB, 1970, note). Many Christian Churches use it for Morning Prayer, to set the note of joyful gratitude to the Lord, whose kindness endures forever and his faithfulness to all generations. So for thousands of years, Jews and Christians have sung this hymn of Thanksgiving.

And there is a creative tension in the psalm, between being His special people, and welcoming all His lands. Each of us comes here this evening, belonging to a particular Church, yet very much aware of our need for each other.

When Fr. Mike O’Hara and I came to Georgetown back on July 17, 2021, covid was winding down. For that let us give thanks. Covid did increase the number of people suffering from dementia, cancer, divorce, and substance abuse.  When I was growing up if a family had one of these problems, there were just a few resources to help them. 

Now the three generations in a family may have all of these difficulties. But we have more resouces, both psychological and spiritual.

We truly need each other to support and encourage our families.  No one Church or Religion has enough resources to do this.

As we give thanks tonight, may we discover more ways to help people in this area. An attitude of gratitude will help us.

Here in the Georgetown area, we are only 55 miles away from the original celebration site of Thanksgiving, at Plymouth, by the Pilgrims and Native Americans after the autumn harvest of 1621.  And our host Congregational Church is the direct descendant of the Pilgrim and Puritan Christians.  

So both geographically and personally, all of us non-Congregational Church people are about as close to the original celebration as possible. The Pilgrims were known as the People of the Psalms.  Psalm 100 would have been very much a part of their worship that original Thanksgiving.

The Prophet Micah wrote his inspiring words about seven hundred years before Christ.  Micah had experienced the devastation of Israel by outsiders, and corruption from insiders.  Yet he promises restoration by a merciful God, one nation and one nation’s prominent people not exploiting the many.  

George Washington in his Thanksgiving Proclamation of 1789 asked us to unite in beseeching the great Lord and ruler of Nations “to pardon our national and other transgressions.”  The Native Americans who participated in the first Thanksgiving were persecuted the following year.  Let us not forget our need to ask pardon.

Last Wednesday, NASA’s largest rocket ever, Artemis, blasted off from the United States for the moon.  The photos we have received since then are astoundingly beautiful.  

Isn’t it marvelous that humans can work together on this project?  Thousands of people in many different countries cooperate to explore space.

In the exploration of space, we see again the tension between individual countries and the need for countries to work together.  Washington’s Thanksgiving Proclamation also is a remarkable example of this tension: deepening our awareness of the special place the United States has our world, and the need for the United States to work with other countries. A very creative tension, which has its ups and downs.

Can the cooperation of the human race to explore space be an encouragement for religious people to work together to strengthen justice and peace and our fragile planet’s resources?

A special word to the younger people here.  You will notice that there are some adults in your family who would like to go to bed tomorrow and not wake up until January 2nd.  The time from just before Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day is so full.  Christmas parties will begin early next week.  We have less and less sunlight.  So many gifts to buy, so many cards to send. 

Is it any wonder that the adults especially get grumpy?

Our school teachers are exhausted during this time of year.  Many employers are short tempered with their workers. Even the clergy may be stressed out.

When people are rude or short tempered to us at this time of year, let us not take it personally.  Usually it is just the season and all its busyness.

Shouldn’t each of us sit down with our families and look at what we expect to do between now and New Year’s?  Most of us could cut back  about half of it and be much happier, much more able to spot the lonely and suffering in our midst.

Make no mistake; it is not our job to make everyone in our midst happy.  But there will be a few very close to us who could use our assistance, without it increasing our stress.

Our Massachusetts predecessors, the Pilgrims and Puritans, called their effort of bringing religious values to the New World, an effort to build a City Set on a Shining Hill–a City Set on a Shining Hill.  Both Presidents John F. Kennedy and Ronald Regan, one a Democrat and the other a Republican, used that expression to describe our efforts to make the United States a more just, religious and merciful society.

Thanksgiving dinners, with three generation present, are a great time to share what God has done in our lives.  Many of us are not comfortable talking publicly, even in our families, about religion.  My mother was a Baptist and Republican; my Father, a Catholic and a Democrat.  When we visited my mother’s parents, we four children were warned not to bring up religion or politics.

But I have seen this work at Thanksgiving Dinners.  Either the host starts talking about the best Thanksgiving they ever had, or one of the children asks the oldest person “What was the best Thanksgiving you ever had?”  Not at the beginning of the meal; it doesn’t work then, but towards  the end, as dessert is being served. 

Sooner or later during that conversation and sharing, God directly enters the conversation and we strengthen not only our family’s religious values, but  eventually our country’s religious values.

So to summarize: may we develop an attitude of gratitude and simplify our lives in order to do better, not only for ourselves, not only for our families, but for our nation and our planet. 

Have a Happy and Holy Thanksgiving!